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Army Still Testing Son of Future Combat Systems

It's like a zombie that just keeps bangin' its head against your door, but the Army is still testing elements of the Future Combat Systems out at its White Sands test base in an effort to eek something out of the billion dollar boondoggle.

Standing attentively inside a tactical operations center, Sgt. David Johnson was able to pinpoint the location of an enemy sniper team and share real-time, combat-relevant intelligence across the force using networking gear now being evaluated.

The gear is being field tested during the Army's ongoing Network Integration Evaluation, or NIE, and the TOC is located in a "mountain village" strategically nested between hills on White Sands Missile Range, N.M., designed to replicate Afghan desert terrain.

"The platoon leader was able to send information up to us and give our commanders the intel that we've got guys with machine guns and RPGs in a building. He was able to prep the fire mission for artillery and go ahead and hit the building without having to endanger Soldiers on the ground," Johnson explained.

The information in this mock-combat scenario, appearing as an icon on a laptop display screen inside the TOC, was sent using Joint Tactical Radio System Ground Mobile Radio, or GMR -- a four-channel, multi-waveform software programmable radio able to transmit voice, data images and video across the force in real-time.

Whoa! Hey, can't my iPhone just do that?

Okay, okay...that was all tongue-in-cheek, but after years of trying to be relevant and fighting for scarce dollars, the Frankenstein monster that was FCS has gradually been whittled down to basically this. It's a radio that can do smartphone stuff in a secure network. That's pretty cool in and of itself, but it's kind of pathetic to see that this is what it's come to. I participated in one of these field assessments a few years ago and while the technologies were cool and all, it was clear that the practicality just wasn't there.

And as we saw over the years of further coverage, it seemed that some technology from the program was deleted as each after action report was evaluated by the bean counters. Literally this story describes almost the exact same technology and scenario as the one we covered at White Sands in August 2009.

Just goes to show that sometimes these sprawling programs lumber around for years -- like the undead.

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